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H.R. 115, U.S. Thin Blue Line Act

Floor Situation

On­­­­­ Thursday, May 18th, 2017, the House will consider H.R. 115, the Thin Blue Line Act, under a closed rule.  H.R. 115 was introduced on January 3, 2017, by Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL) and was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary, which ordered the bill reported by a vote of 19 to 12 on April 27, 2017.


Summary

H.R. 115 amends the federal criminal code to include the killing or attempted killing of a local or state law enforcement officer or first responder as an aggravating factor in Federal death penalty determinations. The legislation would cover the killing of any law enforcement officer, firefighter, or other first responder, including state and local officials, who are murdered on duty, because of the performance of their duty, or because of their status as a public official.


Background

The Federal Death Penalty Act and related provisions establish the procedure that must be followed before a defendant convicted of a federal capital offense may be executed. The death penalty may be imposed under its provisions only after (1) the defendant is convicted of a capital offense; (2) in the case of murder, the defendant has been found to have acted with one of the required levels of intent; (3) the prosecution proves the existence of one or more of the statutory aggravating factors[1]; and (4) the imbalance between the established aggravating factors and any mitigating factors justifies imposition of the death penalty.[2]

Under current federal law, killing a federal law enforcement officer is an aggravating factor when considering a death sentence; however, killing a state or local police officer, a firefighter, or first responder is not an aggravating factor.[3]

H.R. 115 adds the murder or attempted murder of any law enforcement officer or first responder as an aggravating factor for a jury to determine in a Federal capital case, when the jury is deciding whether the death penalty is justified.  The provision would likely apply in many terrorism cases, such as the Boston bombing case, where the Tsarnaev brothers killed an officer from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology during their flight following the attack; or in cases where a state or local officer is killed while serving on a joint law enforcement task force.[4]

According to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, “As law enforcement officers serve and protect us, we have a duty to ensure they have the tools needed to do their jobs and that our laws honor their sacrifices. This bill ensures criminals who murder law enforcement officers face justice for their crimes.”[5]

 


Cost

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates enacting the legislation would have no significant effect on the federal budget.  


Staff Contact

For questions or further information please contact Dominique Yantko with the House Republican Policy Committee by email or at 3-1555.

 

115th Congress